October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that has affected millions of women all over the world and, after skin cancers, is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, it caused an estimate of over 40,000 deaths in the United States in 2015, and an estimated number of over 230,000 new cases of diagnosed invasive breast cancer that year.
Breast cancer typically produces no symptoms when the tumor is small and most easily treated—when the cancer has grown to a size that can be felt, the most common physical sign is a painless lump. Sometimes it can cause a lump or swelling. According to the ACS, less common signs and symptoms include: breast pain or heaviness; persistent changes to the breast such as swelling, thickening, or redness; or nipple abnormalities such as bloody discharge or erosion. However, pain does not indicate the presence of breast cancer—you should have any concerns looked at by your physician.
How can you take preventative care and screen for breast cancer? Here are the ones listed by the American Cancer Society:
Mammography: Mammography is a low-dose x-ray procedure that allows visualization
of the internal structure of the breast.
MRI’s: Women at high lifetime risk are recommended for an annual MRI screening in addition to mammography.
Breast ultrasound: This is sometimes used to evaluate abnormal findings from a screening or diagnostic mammogram or physical exam.
Clinical breast examination (CBE): This has proven to find only a small amount of breast cancer tumors.
Breast self-awareness: A “self-exam” is under this umbrella. It is recommended to be aware of any changes and to contact your physician if you detect a lump or other symptoms so that it can be further evaluated through the proper channels.
According to Susan G. Komen, breast cancer screening tests include a clinical breast exam and mammography. For women at a higher risk of breast cancer, a breast MRI might also be used. Screening is important for all women, but if you are at a higher risk you may need to be screened earlier, and more often than women at average risk. If there is an abnormal finding on a screening tests it’s best to follow up immediately to find out if it is breast cancer. If it is, it’s best to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest possible stage!
Check with your health care provider on whether or not these visits are covered. Exams like mammograms are covered under Medicare Part B, and if you test positive for breast cancer your insurance may cover chemotherapy, prostheses, doctor visits, and surgery.
For more information about breast cancer awareness and screening there is a wealth of information available online, including: the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.